Big Chains and Independents Benefit From New Shopper Research


LAS VEGAS -- Mix three innovative retailers with a veteran researcher, add in some significant shopper market research and you have two extremely compelling educational sessions on how retailers can strengthen their customer relationships and capitalize on specific occasions when shoppers most likely want to use your store.

The two sessions, held Sunday afternoon and yesterday morning, featured new research on convenience store shopping from the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (CCRRC), presented by Bill Bishop Jr., president of Willard Bishop. They also offered practical examples of how to use the research findings by four retailers: Allison Moran, senior vice president of the RaceTrac division of RaceTrac Petroleum; Carol Jensen, chief marketing officer for Wawa Inc.; Alan Beach, vice president of merchandising, 7-Eleven Inc.; and Rahim Budhawi, CEO of Monarch 6040, an independent dealer based in Birmingham, Ala.

Bishop outlined the five major opportunity platforms for c-stores, based on CCRRC research that has been conducted over the past several years.  The research focuses on shopper occasions – why they came to the store – and found that to the consumer, convenience is an experience, not a channel. Further, to consumers, convenience combines both control – feeling in charge of their time – and diversion – looking for a treat, an escape and “balancing life on the go,” according to Bishop.

The five platforms addressed by Bishop and the retailers were My Place, Fresh Value Fast, Female Friendly, Family Time and My Time.

  •  My Place: “It’s where I go. Friendly and familiar.” The appeal is that it’s a great place to start the day. This platform targets blue-collar workers and the morning shopping occasion. Most convenience stores address this platform successfully with a warm, bright and clean environment.
  • Fresh Value Fast: This platform requires decent food for a good price. The environment is clean and modern. The target shopper is working adults, and the occasions targeted are breakfast and lunch.
  • Female Friendly: This platform is a challenge as many women don’t find c-stores clean or safe enough, according to the research. To target this opportunity, retailers must keep their stores modern, safe and clean. And, that includes employees. “One woman said she felt ‘creeped out’ by the personnel in c-stores,” noted Bishop.
  • Family Time: Retailers that target this platform provide weekend activities and are a place for parents to take their kids. The appeal is the opportunity to connect and offer something for everyone. The obvious target is families on a budget, and the occasion is a family treat.
  •  My Time: This involves being efficient, but not rushing. Allowing customers time to browse. It offers a break in the day.

Budhwani tested the Family Time platform for his small Alabama-based chain because he felt it was the most difficult and innovative to execute. He showed video of Monarch’s Family Fun Day, in which customers participated in contests, bouncy castle play areas, clowns, face painting and product sampling at the pumps. Through partnering with vendors on free pizzas and car washes, the event was very cost-effective, he said. “Every kid got a goody bag with a toy, chips and candy,” he added, and LCD televisions inside the store were tuned to popular football games for the adults.

Moran shared how a previous CCRRC study, “Finding the Way Forward,” was the cornerstone for the development of RaceTrac’s own new prototype store – the RT6K, which helped the retailer earn this year’s Retailer Innovator of the Year award from Convenience Store News. Moran stressed, though, that retailers should be sure they are satisfying consumers’ core shopper needs first.

“Safety, cleanliness and hospitality are the basics,” she noted. Only after satisfying these basics is a retailer ready to move up the hierarchy of needs and add value, such as simplicity, ease and time enrichment.

In Monday morning’s session, Jensen of Wawa also stressed the importance of meeting the core needs of shoppers. She said the Council’s research found c-stores lacking in satisfying such needs as offering consistent value, being frustration-free and being clean and safe. In fact, “we were the only shopper channel that did not meet shopper needs in the area of cleanliness and safety,” she said.

Jensen described that finding as a “wakeup call for our industry.”

Beach of 7-Eleven applauded the efforts of the Council and noted that this research and its findings provide a “process we can use as an industry to improve on our shopper perception and relevance.”

Beach agreed with Jensen that the early findings of the research were not great news for c-stores. “We blew it. We were looking to develop the next big idea and missed on the basics.”

Now, the research is being used as a “playbook for success” by the c-store community. “It’s about being the best choice in the market, not just against other c-stores, but against all retailers who are going after the convenience shopper,” said Beach, who explained that several Council members are already building out programs to test the other opportunity platforms and find the best practices within each and to share the results with their colleagues.

“Hopefully, a rising tide will lift all the boats in our industry,” added Jensen.


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